Friday, January 26, 2018

Looie, Looie, Oh, Oh, Me Gotta Go


 Santa Fe’s historic plaza area is looking for a loo.
“City floats plan for public restroom near Plaza,” read the headline in the Santa Fe New Mexican. And that newspaper later editorialized “A Plaza potty? Yes, please” – arguing, among other things, “that Santa Fe has a Margarita Trail, directing people to the best places to enjoy the ubiquitous cocktail. Develop a Potty Trail, so that visitors can check their phones and find what’s available at a glance”.
The search even made news in the Albuquerque media –  “Santa Fe Loo proposal makes a splash” according to KRQE News 13; and “‘Santa Fe Loo’ may be coming to provide relief, “ according to the Albuquerque Journal.
And website Tripadvisor has long criticized Santa Fe as a “Tourist trap without restrooms,”
It is something that Marsha and I have known about for twenty-five years since we first began vacationing in “The City Different”.  On our first visit here in 1992, in order to quickly familiarize ourselves with the history and layout of New Mexico’s capitol city, we went on one of the Tours-by-Locals walks of the downtown area.
And one of the first things that we learned – even before the story behind the unauthorized chiseling away of  “savage Indians” from the Civil War-era memorial statue in the center of the Santa Fe Plaza; or Billy the Kid’s part-time Hotel La Fonda dishwasher job; or the difference between Pueblo and Territorial architecture; or how the Masonic Temple is allowed to be neither; or the spot where the Santa Fe Trail ended – was that (at that time) the place to go, if you had to go (if you know what I mean) was the downtown branch of the Santa Fe Public Library – during open hours. 
This tip was presented to us tourists as an insider’s way to cope with the indelicate situation of a worldwide tourist destination without any public facilities to handle its visitor’s most delicate situations.  To compound the problem, the next piece of info our guide shared was that, because of the 7,500 for high altitude and dry climate, we needed to hydrate much, much more than we were used to.
Public restrooms are things you shouldn’t have to think about – but I remember two in particular.
I think my favorite public men’s room was in the Cape Cod town of Chatham, Massachusetts.  It was during the time when our son was still small, but old enough to be on his own for certain things.  The restroom at Chatham had urinals that extended down to the floor – suitable for users of all heights – facilitating an important male rite of passage
Budapest Hungary, like Santa Fe, had no public restrooms in certain parts of the city and surrounding areas.  A problem they solved by turning the toilets at every restaurant into a pay-for-pee establishment.  A basket was placed on a table by the necessity rooms into which drop-in lavatory “customers” were expected to deposit a coin of a certain amount.  I don’t remember the exact cost.  Hungary’s currency is the Forint (currency code HUF), which then and now exchanges with the dollar at about 250 to one.  Lunch for two could cost 5,000 HUFs.  Relieving yourself was about seventy-five Forints – and worth every penny (or whatever).
After a quarter century of vacations, and nine months of residency, Marsha and I have come up with our own set of workarounds to the Plaza potty problem.  During that time a new convention center with public restrooms opened within a few blocks of the plaza.  Unfortunately its business hours are more limited than the library.  Also the New Mexico History Museum was built right around the corner from the center of the area.  Originally the venue was apparently supposed to have public restrooms.  And it does – sort of.  They are located down the hall to the left, past the gift store.  You do not need to purchase admission to enter.  But there are no signs to tell that to the visitor.  If you gotta go, you just have to know. 
And then there is the La Fonda hotel across the street from southeast corner of the Plaza.  The number of people coming and going in that venue easily allows a desperate intruder to slip in and out of their facilities without notice.
This year’s proposed solution to the situation is what has come to be called the “Santa Fe Loo” – a one person at a time, stand-alone (so to speak) kiosk, which would be placed in a currently unused lot a couple of blocks from the center at a cost of around $130,000.
As reported in the New Mexican: “The loo would come from a Portland, Ore., company, The Portland Loo, which manufactures the stainless steel restrooms and could ship one to Santa Fe intact, the city memo states.
“The loo is lightweight and ‘open,’ according to a schematic from the manufacturer. Louvers, or open slats, ring the 10-foot-tall unit at the top and bottom. The lower slats are angled, the schematic says, to allow law enforcement to observe how many are within the stall without infringing on a user’s privacy.”
No one, at least publicly, seems to like the idea.  None of the five candidates for the March 2018 mayoral election support it.  But nobody seems to have a better idea either.
I myself kind of like what I will call the modified-Budapest solution.  Turn every restaurant into a “pee for a fee” facility.  For those tourists who no longer carry cash develop an app similar to those that allows electronic donations to panhandlers.  I would suggest $1.00 as a reasonable price.  Like the Canadian’s “Loonie” 

We could call it the “Looie”.


monica said...

I will never ever ever shut up about the great public restrooms (seen here, behind the wildflowers) next to the John Denver Sanctuary Garden in Aspen, Colorado.

monica said...

In the Rio Grande Park. Here are more photos and info about the buildings. I will never ever shut up.